I had a great time at the motivational seminar yesterday. While I can’t share a full day’s worth of information in a single blog entry, I’ll share some of the highlights and the things I learned.
The seminar took place in the Mandalay Bay Events Center, a gigantic indoor stadium with a raised speaking platform in the bottom center, like what you’d see used for a boxing match. This meant that the speaker was surrounded by people on all sides. I estimated there were about 10,000 people there, so it’s definitely one of the largest seminars I’ve attended. One of the speakers also threw out the number 10,000 as an estimate of attendees.
I went with several friends from Toastmasters, and it’s fair to say we weren’t there just for the content but also for the opportunity to see other speakers in action and to observe and evaluate their skills. Initially I could tell some of us found it hard to get out of “speaker evaluation” mode and to just listen to the content. It’s hard not to count a speaker’s ums and ahs or to notice their platform skills like vocal variety and gestures, since these are skills we work on in Toastmasters.
I also tried to get a sense for how each speaker’s message impacted the audience. Did they seem genuine or phony? Did it seem like anything they said was going to permanently change anyone’s thinking or actions?
Keep in mind that the following is based my own personal observations and opinions, so obviously it’s going to be biased towards what I like and don’t like.
Here we go….
Steve Forbes (of Forbes magazine) was the first speaker. He talked about thinking outside the box, embracing change, and going against conventional wisdom. I thought his speaking skills were good, and I sensed he was connecting with the audience well. But I personally didn’t get much from his content — to me it was neither original nor profound. He used many financial and business examples, and he got us all laughing with strong humor. But I can’t say that this speech had any lasting impact on me. That isn’t to say he didn’t do a good job — I just didn’t resonate with his message.
Zig Ziglar came on next. He was the person I was most looking forward to seeing, and this was the first time I’ve seen him speak live. My reaction was a bit mixed. On the positive side, Zig had great humor, loads of personal stories, and compelling content. However, I found this particular speech to be a bit unfocused and disorganized. It seemed to me that Zig was trying to cram about two hours of content into a one-hour speech. He spoke at an incredibly rapid rate for the entire hour, and I personally found it overwhelming and had trouble following him consistently. He was also stepping on his laughs. (“Stepping on laughs” means that when you say something funny, you don’t give the audience sufficient time to react and to finish laughing. You start talking again too soon, cutting off their laughter. The negative effect of stepping on your laughs repeatedly is that you condition the audience not to laugh, and I could see that happening with Zig’s presentation.) So in this sense, I was disappointed with Zig’s performance. I’ve heard audio recordings of his live presentations where I felt he did a much better job of connecting with the audience and maintaining a more reasonable pacing.
Here are some of the key points from Zig’s presentation:
- Motivation is temporary, but so is bathing. If you do both, you’ll live longer and smell better.
- People who succeed understand that their own decisions and attitude make more difference than external, uncontrollable factors like the economy.
- The more you have of what money won’t buy, the more you’ll get of what money will buy.
- Commitment to your goals is critical. Some of us are about as committed as “a kamikaze pilot on his 39th mission.”
- Little steps are important. Termites do more damage than earthquakes and hurricanes.
- Work every day like you do the day before you’re leaving on vacation.
- “Run your day by the clock, your life with a vision.”
- A strong relationship gives you the “home court advantage.” Zig noted how it took him 25 years and 17 failed business deals before he achieved any degree of financial success. He was financially struggling for 25 years (from his 20s to his 40s). And yet, his wife kept her faith in him the whole way and never wavered in her support. I could tell Zig was truly grateful to his wife for that long-term support, probably because I feel the same level of support from my wife too.
- Inner joy improves all areas of your life for the better (physical, mental, social, spiritual, financial, etc.). I agree completely with this point.
- Success is like an old-fashioned hand water pump. You have to pump it hard for a while, holding the faith that the water will eventually begin to flow even while you’re getting nothing but air. But once the water starts to flow, it takes less energy to keep it flowing. Nice analogy.
- Zig showed us a photo of himself with a stack of 5000 letters he received from people thanking him for the results they achieved by applying these ideas. He made special note of some of them, including a letter about a prevented suicide.
Zig’s speech included a lot about what to do and how to think to achieve success. I felt his passion come through on these points. My personal interest though is in hearing a lot more about the why. For example, I would have loved to have heard him tell us more about his overall philosophy of life and how he developed it. He made many references to his being a Christian, which I could tell delighted some people in the audience while it simultaneously turned off others. I would have liked to see him address that polarizing affect and to reconcile how he felt his spiritual beliefs contributed to his other results in life. I wanted to get a deeper understanding of Zig’s overall context for living, not merely his physical, mental, and emotional tactics and techniques. Why does a Christian care about sales? How does that fit together in his mind?
I think a reason people don’t experience more success in life isn’t because they don’t have the right tactics and techniques and attitude — it’s that they haven’t yet developed an overall life context where doing these things actually makes sense. I know I wasn’t applying most of the stuff I knew I should be doing until I had developed a strong enough sense of purpose for my life — once I reached that point, I didn’t have to motivate myself. I woke up every morning feeling motivated automatically. So I would have loved to see Zig share his own perspective of how this kind of thing played out in his own life.
Krish Dhanam spoke next. He only talked for about 15 minutes, so there wasn’t a lot of content. He spoke of being an immigrant to the USA from South India and about how grateful he was for the opportunities he found here. He connected well with the audience and had some good humor and personal stories. His content was standard goal-setting material — write down your goals, list the benefits, identify obstacles, create a plan of action, set a deadline, etc. I can’t say I got anything new out of it myself. The content was well-presented and personalized, but the message wasn’t original or all that profound.
Phil Town was next up. He claimed to be an investor that started with $1000 and turned it into $1 million in five years through investing in stocks. He explained some of his investment strategies, based around buying and selling individual stocks instead of relying on mutual fund managers, but the talk essentially turned into a sales pitch for a $995 seminar (supposedly marked down from $6000) and technical analysis software he was offering. A lot of people seemed to be sold on it and started signing up during the break. I felt he was genuinely passionate about the results he had personally achieved in the stock market, and I sensed he genuinely believed he was offering a good value. But I was turned off by the use of the seminar time as a sales pitch, especially because the content he did provide doesn’t really stand on its own as actionable — the “call to action” was to sign up for the other seminar.
Michael Powell, former FCC Chairman and son of Colin Powell, spoke about leadership. One of his points was the importance of developing “confusion endurance,” a tolerance for ambiguity, which he credited to Leonardo da Vinci. He noted the 70/30 rule: “When I have 70% of what I need to act, it’s time to act now.” Waiting for that last 30% rarely changes the outcome, and you will miss opportunities while you wait. This point resonated with me — if you wait for 100% certainty, you’re too late. It would be accurate to say that when I started blogging and podcasting and speaking, I was only about 70% certain about what I was doing. Sometimes ready-fire-aim is superior to ready-aim-fire.
Some of Powell’s other points included:
- A leader is a true decision-maker, even in the face of ambiguity and uncertainty.
- Don’t confuse activity with productivity.
- Take time to unplug, to reflect, and to think. Try one day a week without touching a computer keyboard. Try one hour a day with no interruptions. Try not answering email for the first 90 minutes of your day.
- Little differences are the determiner of greatness.
- “If work is not a joyful place for you, you’re in for a crummy life.”
- A top leader should spend 75% of his/her time on people issues.
- Earned authority is not the same as apparent authority. Respect and trust are earned, not bestowed.
- “You might be smart without ever failing, but you will never be wise.”
- Maintain perspective about what’s really important. Don’t let trivialities knock you off course.
Some of the other Toastmasters I was with weren’t impressed with Powell’s speaking skills. However, I thought they were adequate and overshadowed by his message. I liked what he had to say and could relate to much of it personally. For example, with respect to the last bullet point above, Powell noted that he was once in a jeep accident on the German Autobahn. He broke many bones, shattered his pelvis, and was told he’d never walk again nor have children. But through a year of difficult recovery he did walk again. He commented that one of his favorite things to do was to walk his boys around the block. He said he keeps copies of his X-rays in a drawer, and when someone complains to him about how hard something is, he pulls out the X-rays and says, “That’s not hard. This is hard!”
I’ve had personal experiences that were also very hard for me to overcome, and part of their long-term value is that they help me maintain perspective, especially with respect to courage and fear. If I ever feel the tendency to give into fear, I say to myself, “This doesn’t take courage. Now that took courage!” That’s one of the reasons I’m not afraid to do public speaking or to share a lot of myself on the internet in ways that many people would consider risky. Compared to other challenges I had to overcome, these things are a breeze. There was a time in my life when I would have been grateful to experience the deepest negative troughs of my life as it is today because they still would have been higher than the highest peaks I used to experience.
So even if you’re in a situation that today seems very negative to you, realize that in the future, it may become a source of great personal power for you.
Joe Montana, former quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers, came on next. He stumbled a little in the beginning with some humor that didn’t quite work, but he quickly found his stride. I really enjoyed his presentation because he had a strong central focus to his speech, and all his points and stories supported it. His main theme was that individual success is the key to team success. He disagreed with the statement, “There’s no I in team.” He credited the 49ers’ success to lots of preparation and hard work. For example, he noted that during practice, when wide receiver Jerry Rice would score a touchdown, he would always run the whole distance to the end zone, whether it was 9 yards or 90 yards. Most people in practice would only run out about 10 or 20 yards before turning around. Joe said this made the practice sessions longer, but Rice’s commitment soon became infectious, and he raised the bar for everyone else, so soon their other wide receivers were doing the same thing. Joe went on to tell stories of how this preparation eventually paid off in some of their actual games.
Joe explained how personal effort and preparation build trust for the whole team. When you see that a team member is putting in so much effort, you trust that they’ll be there for you. Joe could trust that his blockers would be doing their best. He could trust that his receivers would be where they were supposed to be. I recognized this as being similar to Stephen Covey’s conviction that “private victory precedes public victory.” Joe said that you don’t have to like your teammates, but you do have to trust them. So trust is built on top of personal commitment and effort. When you see one of your teammates working hard and doing their best, it makes you want to do better as well. I also listened to what Joe didn’t say. He didn’t say that teamwork and trust are built on liking each other or on getting to know each other really well or on embracing diversity. Loyalty to the team comes about when individuals are doing their own personal best. So there is an I in team afterall.
Real estate guru Tom Hopkins spoke about sales techniques, particularly how to lead a prospect all the way to the closing of a sale. One technique involved using different words that people are more comfortable hearing and which reduce sales resistance. For example, you would say total investment or total amount instead of price, initial investment instead of down payment, own instead of buy, approve instead of sign, paperwork instead of contract. Another technique was to use leading questions to get the person to say “yes” a lot, so they’ll eventually say “yes” when you ask for the sale.
Personally his message didn’t resonate with me at all. I’ve read a lot about sales techniques, and while I found them interesting at one time, after a while they began to turn my stomach. I find this type of selling too manipulative and insincere. While I understand it can be effective at closing sales, these techniques have the opposite effect on me, probably because I see right through them and feel manipulated. When someone tries these low-level tactics on me, I have to restrain myself from the overwhelming urge to poke them in the eye. (What can I say? I was raised on The Three Stooges.)
My perspective is that if you have to use tactics that involve manipulating the other person in such a manner, then perhaps something is wrong further up the chain. I understand that a lot of people will disagree with me on this, and that’s OK. It’s due to my own personal bias. My bias is that I dislike viewing people as Pavlovian stimulus-response creatures and prefer to treat them more as conscious and aware spirits. I find that I am much happier relating to people as conscious, intelligent beings (even when they seem to behave otherwise) than when I dehumanize them with labels like “prospect.” Even when I do fall into the pattern of using such labels (for lack of a better way to communicate), I do my best to try to see people as conscious beings, not as numbers or dollar signs.
There was a time in my life where I would have loved Tom Hopkins’ presentation and material, and I would have eagerly run out to apply it. But even back then I’d have been left with an uneasy, incongruent feeling as I did so… where my brain would have said, “this is great — let’s do it!” while my intuition was saying, with a calmer, quieter voice, “no, this just isn’t right.”
Peter Lowe did a highly interactive presentation, covering much of the same material I’ve seen elsewhere, particularly from Tony Robbins. How much longer are speakers going to use the “point your arm to the side and turn as far as you can, then visualize yourself going much farther, then turn again” routine? Peter talked about the importance of physiology, which he demonstrated with a high level of energy on stage, so much in fact that his face was drenched in sweat an hour later.
At one point Peter brought an audience volunteer up on stage to do a board break. And having done about a dozen different types of board breaks myself in Tae Kwon Do (along with my wife, brother, and sister), I can say that the palm break he chose is probably the easiest (and the least painful) of the hand techniques. Perhaps due to my own personal background, this part of the presentation seem a bit phony and unnecessarily flashy to me. Peter used the analogy of the board break to emphasize the importance of seeing beyond obstacles. That’s a good message, but you don’t need to visualize going through a board to break it with the heal of your palm — you just need to hit it hard in the center.
Peter had the most interactive presentation of anyone, but I didn’t sense a strong emotional connection with the audience from him. His well-organized and structured presentation covered physical, mental, and spiritual success and congruency, but I just wasn’t resonating with his message. I didn’t feel he went deep enough within himself to pull up and share why these ideas were important and what they meant to him personally. He connected with heads but not hearts.
James Smith spoke on real estate investing. This was my least favorite presentation of all, another disguised sales pitch for a real estate seminar that didn’t provide actionable value capable of standing on its own. It felt utterly soulless to me, and the presentation sounded rehearsed and canned, like I was just watching someone go through the motions of what to do and say on stage without being aware that he was surrounded by thousands of fellow human beings. One of my Toastmasters friends came away with a similar impression.
Next up was entertainer Jerry Lewis, who has raised over $2 billion for muscular dystrophy research. Jerry didn’t give a speech but rather an entirely humorous presentation full of jokes and personal stories. I was a big fan of Jerry Lewis movies when I was a kid, so this was a delight for me. He had us all laughing hysterically, and one of his video clips was so funny I was laughing for about 3 minutes straight. In fact, it still makes me laugh just to think about it. I think Jerry had the best audience connection of any speaker that day. Humor is a powerful way to connect with an audience. Even though he didn’t give a speech per se, his presentation was one of my favorites. He helped us not to take ourselves so seriously.
Rudolf Giuliani, former Mayor of New York City, was the final speaker. I’m skeptical of anyone who speaks and writes about leadership because I usually find such material lacking in substance, so I went into this with a bit of a negative bias. But this speech was actually my favorite one of the day. Great humor, excellent personal stories, and a strong audience connection. He gave one of the best organized presentations — the organization of the speech was obvious from the beginning, which made it easy to follow.
His six principles of leadership were:
- Know what you stand for.
- Be an optimist, not a pessimist. People follow hope.
- You have to have courage, which means having fear and making the right decision anyway.
- Relentless preparation.
- Teamwork. Build a balanced team by recruiting others who possess the strengths you lack.